Schaefer, spurned by the Shore, is simply stumped The governor's clam claim is, well, just a little fishy

October 26, 1990|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Evening Sun Staff

In a television ad tailored for Eastern Shore voters, Gov. William Donald Schaefer cites sales of Maryland clams to New England seafood lovers as proof of his commitment to improving Chesapeake Bay.

"Four years ago, I promised to clean up the bay," Schaefer says, peering directly into the camera lens.

"Now, New England is buying Maryland clams."

There's something, well, almost fishy about the governor's clam claim.

Schaefer did talk about cleaning the bay when he ran for governor four years ago. And New England states are buying much of Maryland's soft clams, which are harvested from Chesapeake waters.

But efforts to improve the quality of the bay have nothing to do with why New England is buying Maryland clams. The fact is that New England bought Maryland clams for decades, then stopped two years ago because of fear of bacteria levels, and resumed last year after Maryland watermen began keeping clams on ice.

Linking bay clean-up efforts with out-of-state seafood sales "is pure political bull . . ." said one Eastern Shore waterman, who asked not to be identified.

The interruption in Maryland's clam sales to New England came about two years ago when Massachusetts and several other New England states temporarily banned the import of Maryland soft clams because, their health officials claimed, bacteria levels found on Chesapeake clams were too high.

The ban was lifted after Schaefer and the state Department of Natural Resources issued emergency regulations in April 1989 requiring watermen to keep their bushels of clams cool to prevent bacteria from flourishing under the hot summer sun. Clams, as well as other seafood caught in the bay, normally contain a level of bacteria not harmful to humans if the food is kept refrigerated and then is cooked before it is eaten.

In the past, Maryland had shipped its clams out of state in refrigerated trucks, but the clams weren't refrigerated on the boats. Watermen traditionally left the clams packed in bushel baskets -- unprotected from the sun -- until they reached shore.

As a result of the 1989 DNR rules, watermen these days either put the clams in refrigerators on board their boats or cover the baskets with shaved ice.

"As far as I know, water quality was not the issue" in the out-of-state clam sales, said Michael Golden, spokesman for the state health department. "It seems that the problem was solved because of the refrigeration."

"It wasn't that it was symptomatic of the bay's condition," said George O'Donnell, a Queen Anne's County waterman and a board member of the Maryland Watermen's Association. "That wasn't the problem."

Tom Burke, Schaefer's aide on bay matters, said his office provided the governor's re-election staff with background material on the administration's efforts to help clean the bay.

But, he said, water quality and the clam sales to New England mentioned by the governor in his campaign ad are separate issues.

"I don't understand the reference," Burke said when he was read Schaefer's statement yesterday. "They are different."

Schaefer campaign press secretary Ricki Baker said she was not aware that the governor's TV ad contains misleading information.

With that, the Schaefer campaign staff clammed up yesterday afternoon.

Then, later last night, Louise Hayman, a spokeswoman for the governor's press office, called back with additional information.

"You know why the ad didn't make sense?" she said. "The governor didn't use the script. . . . There was a prepared script and the governor departed from it and started reciting environmental accomplishments and sort of threw in the business about the clams."

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